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Civil Rights Childhood

Picturing Liberation in African American Photobooks

2014
Author:

Katharine Capshaw

Civil Rights Childhood

The unexpected and evocative role of children’s photographic books in cultural transformation and social change

Civil Rights Childhood explores the function of children’s photographic books and the image of the black child in social justice campaigns for school integration and the civil rights movement. Drawing on works ranging from documentary photography and popular historical narratives to coffee-table and art books, Katharine Capshaw shows how the photobook—and the aspirations of childhood itself—encourage cultural transformation.

Katharine Capshaw’s new study—intersecting photography, children’s literature, and the civil rights movement—is a rich and strikingly original addition to the growing scholarship on African American childhood. Many scholars will appreciate and be indebted to this important work.

Gerald Early, Washington University in St. Louis

Childhood joy, pleasure, and creativity are not often associated with the civil rights movement. Their ties to the movement may have faded from historical memory, but these qualities received considerable photographic attention in that tumultuous era. Katharine Capshaw’s Civil Rights Childhood reveals how the black child has been—and continues to be—a social agent who demands change.

Because children carry a compelling aura of human value and potential, images of African American children in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education had a powerful effect on the fight for civil rights. In the iconography of Emmett Till and the girls murdered in the 1963 Birmingham church bombings, Capshaw explores the function of children’s photographic books and the image of the black child in social justice campaigns for school integration and the civil rights movement. Drawing on works ranging from documentary photography, coffee-table and art books, and popular historical narratives and photographic picture books for the very young, Civil Rights Childhood sheds new light on images of the child and family that portrayed liberatory models of blackness, but it also considers the role photographs played in the desire for consensus and closure with the rise of multiculturalism.

Offering rich analysis, Capshaw recovers many obscure texts and photographs while at the same time placing major names like Langston Hughes, June Jordan, and Toni Morrison in dialogue with lesser-known writers. An important addition to thinking about representation and politics, Civil Rights Childhood ultimately shows how the photobook—and the aspirations of childhood itself—encourage cultural transformation.

Awards

International Research Society for Children’s Literature - Honor Book Award

Children’s Literature Association 2016 Book Award

Civil Rights Childhood

Katharine Capshaw is associate professor of English at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. She is the author of Children’s Literature of the Harlem Renaissance, winner of the Children’s Literature Association’s 2004 award for best scholarly book.

Civil Rights Childhood

Katharine Capshaw’s new study—intersecting photography, children’s literature, and the civil rights movement—is a rich and strikingly original addition to the growing scholarship on African American childhood. Many scholars will appreciate and be indebted to this important work.

Gerald Early, Washington University in St. Louis

Capshaw’s analysis and contextualization of the works in question break entirely new ground, offering original ways of thinking about how the photographic book operated as a medium particularly suited to African-American authors, child readers, and messages about civil rights.

Julia Mickenberg, University of Texas at Austin

This is an important and engaging book that offers one of the few extended discussions of depictions of black childhood.

International Review of Children’s Literature

Civil Rights Childhood will no doubt be an influential text in our understanding of the visual representations of black childhood now and in our future.

MELUS

A fascinating, well-conceived and empirically rich study.

Visual Studies

To read Capshaw is. . . to receive a lesson on the cultural importance and responsibility of literary scholarship. Civil Rights Childhood not only advances our scholarly understanding of the politics of childhood, but also enables readers to better contextualize so many of the images and injustices we continue to encounter.

International Research Society for Children’s Literature

Deeply researched and engagingly written.

Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth

Civil Rights Childhood is notable for its steadfast and vocal commitment to its political project. Capshaw’s continual engagement with the real implications of the work she analyzes and also of her own would make this book a useful one to use in the classroom.

CAA Reviews

Civil Rights Childhood

Contents

Introduction

1. Friendship, Sympathy, Social Change
2. Pictures and Nonfiction: Conduct and Coffee Tables
3. Today: Framing Freedom in Mississippi
4. The Black Arts Movement: Childhood as Liberatory Process
5. Blurring the Childhood Image: Representations of the Civil Rights Narrative

Conclusion: A Text for Trayvon

Acknowledgments
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Civil Rights Childhood

UMP blog: The effect of Civil Rights photobooks in transforming the social consciousness of young people

Legibility and cultural memory are contests of power. As we recall the landmark events of 1965—the victories of the Voting Rights Act and the Immigration Act, as well as the losses of Malcolm X and the riots in Watts—we can also seek out stories of Civil Rights mobilization that are, perhaps, more local and intimate.